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Collaboration is a Package and People are Key
(originally published on LinkedIn)
Package: Collaboration is a package; and, like a chain, collaboration is only as strong as its weakest link at any given time and in any given situation. My research identified sixteen primary organising themes, which together help build the layers and framework for collaboration - many of which would not be a surprise to practitioners in the field, as practitioners have an intuitive understanding of what collaboration is. But this “intuitive” understanding may in itself have been a cause of complacency to date, almost like: 'I get it, now what?' The risk is that collaboration simply becomes the topic of current interest and is reduced to little more then a buzzword. Successful collaboration is dependent on identifying and understanding all the parts of the package and the parts working cohesively and in a complementary manner together.
It's all about people: The deeper conversations continue to be centred on people and the system. At its core collaboration is about people: just as much as people can be an impediment to collaboration, they can be the answer or circuit breaker. Here are two word clouds: the first summarises the perceived impediments to collaboration in a public sector context and the second summarises the descriptors for a collaboration Nirvana, in the same context (both were generated using NVivo). The comparison is evident.
Working together Here I have a little warning flag - collaboration is not the same as networking. Whilst networking can lead to collaboration, often pre-existing relationships can result in un-conscious and even conscious biases. In turn this impacts our behaviours (who we share information with and such like) and reduces opportunities for diversity and inclusion. It's necessary to take time to agree the problem definition and which part (if any) requires collaboration. That then supports partner selection and determines who needs to be at the table at any given point in the collaboration journey (note: partners can change in a collaboration journey). Through a co-design process we then agree what each brings to the collaborative initiative. This forms a strong foundation for mutual respect relationships and helps avoid the tendency towards competition at the table, keeping a shared interest focus.
Whakawhanaungatanga Collaboration might be better described as “whakawhanaungatanga”; which literally translated is the process of “establishing relationships, relating to others” or metaphorically it is about connecting at both a physical and spiritual level. Real collaboration necessitates intentionality and investment of self. It requires deep reflection and walking out into the fullness of personal courage; and, as Brené Brown teaches, all courage requires some risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure – which is the definition of vulnerability.
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